By Laura Freeman
It’s a rare human who lives a long life without experiencing back pain. Time and rest are often enough to heal minor discomforts. However, between work and recreational injures, trauma, diseases, degenerative progression and congenital issues, many patients will need expert help to ease pain and restore optimum function.
“We’ve come a long way in treating spinal conditions with new tools and techniques, advances in medications, rehabilitation, and surgical procedures that weren’t possible before,” said Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center spinal surgeon Andrew Cordover, MD. “Because there are so many types of spinal disorders, along with a wide range of treatments, it’s impossible for any one person to maintain expertise in all of them. That’s why, when I merged my practice with Andrews Sports Medicine 14 years ago, I began working toward building a comprehensive spinal center here, where patients can seek state-of-the-art treatment for a broad range of spinal conditions.”
An orthopaedic spine surgeon who has treated NFL, WWE, and other elite athletes, Cordover is part of a network of sports medicine physicians who share updates on advances in the field.
“I apply the same strategies that I use with professional athletes to help high school and college athletes, weekend warriors and other patients who may have had been involved in an accident, a slip on the stairs, or be dealing with degenerative issues,” he said.
“However, not every back condition requires surgery. There are many nonsurgical options that can often bring relief before we have to consider surgery. That’s why I was so pleased when Charles Carnel, MD joined our practice. He’s an interventional physiatrist specializing in the nonsurgical treatment of low back, neck and neurological conditions. In addition to overseeing all our nonsurgical back care, he also performs nerve blocks, RF ablations, and cement augmentations.”
Adding Carnel’s skills to the team was part two in building a comprehensive spine center that is able to offer a broad range of care for many types of spinal conditions.
“We can triage our patients to determine whether they are likely to respond to conservative measures like physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications or perhaps injections, or whether more aggressive treatment is indicated,” Cordover said. “Now, with Daniel Kim, MD joining our team, the depth of our expertise is even more robust. Dr. Kim is nationally known for his skill as a spinal surgeon and in using advanced techniques in innovative surgeries and minimally invasive procedures.”
Named to the 20 Under 40 list of top young spinal surgeons in the country by the North American Spine Society, Kim was the first surgeon in Birmingham to offer endoscopic spine surgery. He will begin sharing his time between the Andrews Sports Medicine office on the Ascension St. Vincent’s campus and the new Hoover Highway 150 office opening in October. Kim will be performing procedures at both Ascension St. Vincent’s and Grandview Medical Center.
Kim said, “I want my patients who drive an hour or more from rural Alabama to receive the same exact quality of care in my office and operating room as they would if they were in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles.”
The new location of Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center on John Hawkins Parkway will be convenient for patients who live in southern neighborhoods and the underserved west Hoover area. It’s also accessible by Highways 459 for communities west and east, and by Highways 119 and 280 for patients further south and in rural areas.”
In addition to healing spinal problems, an important part of the follow-up is helping patients prevent future injuries. “Whether I’m talking with a professional athlete, a teenage gymnast or a high school baseball player, the question I hear most often is when can they return to play,” Cordover said. “We have established return-to-play criteria, and for a professional athlete, the decision can be a question of both health risks and career.
“We want to make sure our patients are recovered enough to play safely with minimal risk of re-injury. We look at how the injury occurred and what can be done to modify the risk. That can involve protective equipment, bracing and strength conditioning, along with improving training strategies.
“A number of injuries occur in performance training, rather than on the field. The old ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy is gone. We can prevent many sports-related back injuries by ensuring proper form and technique while performing higher risk exercises—such as dead lifts, power cleans and squats.”
Around 80 percent of the population will have back pain at some point in their lives. In some cases, seeing an orthopaedic specialist for an evaluation and treatment earlier in life can be a good investment in avoiding more serious problems later.
“Sometimes patients have congenital issues like curvature of the spine, or foot or knee issues that can cause problems later on,” Cordover said. “Poor posture or weak muscles can also put a person at a higher level of risk. If their job involves lifting heavy weights and they don’t know how to properly lift, or how to cope with having to sit or stand for prolonged time periods, repetitive motion or working in an awkward position, we need to help them learn how to reduce risks.
“Life itself is a degenerative process. The trick is learning to mitigate and correct the damage so we can enjoy living without pain.”